UPDATE, March 2015: Please check out my 2014 review of the science behind air purifiers; my 2015 tests of air purifiers under 1,000 RMB plus my 2014 review of two dozen top air purifier models in China.
I’ve blogged a lot about testing my air purifiers at home, a quartet of machines (three IQAirs and one Blueair) working in symphonic harmony to create indoor air 80% cleaner than the outside air pollution — 24 hours a day, every day. I find this 80% to be very reassuring, especially for my newborn son, who will be spending almost 100% of the first years of his life inside our home. Air purifiers in China are a no-brainer, must-have item! I would be even more cheerful if one more criteria could be improved — the cost.
Each time I pay for replacement filters, I get really ticked off that I’m paying so much money — and so much more than I would than if I lived in the USA or Europe, ordering exactly the same filter. It’s simply infuriating that a replacement filter in China could cost more than an entirely new machine in America! In the respected Consumer Reports list of top air purifiers, the highest rated machine is only 2,118 RMB (~350 USD, the Whirlpool APS 1030K). Even the Chinese press has started to cover the extortionate prices of some air purifiers, especially the replacement filters.
I actually feel partly responsible for this, as many thousands of readers have bought machines based on my recommendations. Here in our expat bubble world, sheltered underneath our shiny pollution domes, we all keep self-promoting the same heavily advertised imported brands, creating a self-reinforcing illusion of brand superiority. Meanwhile, the other 99% of people in China couldn’t possibly afford almost any machine I’ve recommended. So while I appreciate my current machines, and while they truly are highly rated from many independent sources, they are far from the only viable options out there — and definitely not the best value for anyone with limited income.
I can’t say I’ve found the perfect solution quite yet — perhaps the team at Smart Air Filters could help fill that gap — but I may have finally found a decent value. It’s the Philips range of air purifiers, especially the AC4072, which I recently gave to my in-laws as a Christmas gift (only in China would that be a hot gift!). I chose this because it ranked very well on the test results last year from the Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission, where its sister model, the Philips AC4074, filtered 96% of PM2.5 and 53% of formaldehyde — using the same HEPA filter as the cheaper AC4072. Plus, my new comrade-in-arms in geeky air pollution testing, Thomas Talhelm, recently published his own data comparing his DIY filters against this Philips as well as the Blueair 203 — and the Philips was as good or better than the Blueair, eliminating 93-96% of PM0.5-2.5 on high speed overnight in a small bedroom. Thomas and I are on similar missions to share data with the world, and he’s even more focused on finding value — a very important and noble goal. The AC4072 is currently 2,900 RMB direct from Amazon China, compared to my Blueair 503’s price of 5300 RMB, my IQAir Pro 150 price of 9,000 RMB and my Pro 250 price of 11-15,000 RMB (depending on voltage and import status).
For my own tests, I did my usual routine: I compared real-world situations, not just blasting them on high speed all night, which I feel is an impractical and loud scenario that no one does in real life. In real life, we want the most effective machine at a reasonably quiet level. I want to know:
- How much better is the air when I’m sleeping?
- How much better is the air in my big living room, and the rest of my house, during the day?
I always compare my indoor pollution to the outside air at that time, because again my most crucial question is “how much better is my air inside, compared to outdoor air?” As I mentioned before, my current system is 80% better. Can the cheaper and smaller Philips keep up the same good results as these famous flagship models?
I was very pleased with the results. In my 13 square meter bedroom, overnight with the doors closed, the Philips AC4072 on a lower setting filtered out 87% of PM1 and 98% of PM5, when compared to the outside air. I usually have the Blueair there, and while the AC4072 wasn’t as wonderfully quiet, it was very reasonable white noise and still performed at least as well as Blueair and others in previous tests. During my last testing of Blueair, IQAir and Airgle in my bedroom, their combined effectiveness overnight was 90%, so the Philips data is right in line with that.
In my 30 square meter living room, it filtered 84% of PM1 and 96% of PM5, again compared to the air right outside my window. These numbers are very comparable to previous data, which again is impressive given the clearly smaller size and price. In last summer’s test, the living room average was 85%, so yet again the Philips is exactly in line with that data.
My Bottom Line
Despite the clearly smaller HEPA filters and unit size, the Philips AC4072 performed equally as well as all other units I’ve previously tested. Plus, it was generally quiet at most settings, and their automatic mode was quite useful for the front room. And it doesn’t hurt to be a bit sleek and stylish, occupying less than half the floor space of my other units. Regarding value, it’s half to a third the price of my current machines (same goes for the filter replacements).
That’s good news for me, and for the tens of millions of others across China who are looking for quality performance with value for money. Even this AC4072 is probably overkill in smaller bedrooms, and maybe their cheaper AC4025 or AC4012 would be fine. Besides Philips, I’m sure that quite a few models from the other major brands also would be just fine, many with prices far below the famous foreign brands. Daikin, Sharp, Panasonic, Whirlpool, Westinghouse, Honeywell, Yadu … as the DIY folks are starting to prove, all you really need is a good HEPA filter and a good fan.
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